The Excess of Imagination
An excessively imagined nation is bound to address its diverse problems with brutality. The fantasies and actions of the Hindutva brigade are part of that brutality
Manash Bhattacharjee Delhi
Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.
(The Adventures of Augie March)
The chief proponent of Hindu nationalism, VinayakSavarkar, wrote in his book, Hindutva, that the “ideal condition… under which a nation can attain perfect solidarity and cohesion… would be found in the case of those people who inhabit a land… the scenes of whose history are also the scenes of their mythology”. Muslims, according to him, were “divided between the land of their birth and the land of their prophets”. Hence, Hindu nationalism draws up an irreconcilable line vis-à-vis Muslims in terms of a difference that it holds irreconcilable — between mythology and history. In order to establish this spurious relationship, Hindu nationalism fuzzes the distinctions by turning mythology into history and history into mythology. Once this is done, the idea of history becomes subservient to a nationalist mythology.
To accept the challenge of history, in a fundamentally ethical way, is to accept difference. Most horrors in history have been attempts to subsume and exterminate difference in some form or the other. Hindu nationalism unleashed its brand of morbid symptoms by rendering the difference between Hindus and Muslims illegitimate within the overall framework of the Nation-State. The articulation is straightforward enough — if the nation is legitimate, the Muslims are not.
So, the Muslims, who derive their religious origins from outside the territorial imagination of Hindu nationalism, are treated as an error of presence, which is taken to its worst, logical limit — a presence that has to be excluded and exterminated. This point of view marks off India directly and only as Hindu.
The sacralization of territory and the territorialization of the sacred — this is what the religious idea of the nation symbolizes in its dividing up of the world into separatist historical zones. What began as a distinction between mythology and history came to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate narratives of belonging.
All modern forms of fascism are products of an ‘othering within’the nationalist idea. The demonizing of the other as part of one’s self-glorification demands the ritual severing of the other’s body from one’s self-glorified land. This bizarre logic fits hand-in-glove with the logic of capital, where the ‘elimination’ of others also becomes necessary to monopolize business and raise one’s profits. It is the most perverse means to prosperity, which gloats at the cost of the other’s humiliation. When the logic of religion and capital join hands, history has no hiding place left for its victims.
It would be too facile, as in popular discourse, to straightforwardly contrast the apparently peaceful and plural ethos of Hinduism with the dangerously narrow-bred ideology of Hindutva. Attacking Hindutva should not at the same time make anyone feel obliged to defend Hinduism. For very obvious reasons. One, Hinduism and Hindutva don’t exist asentirely demarcated spaces within the whole social and religious structure of the majority community. Hindutva is a distinct and corrupt form of modern, political Hinduism. Two, Hinduism is not merely an amorphous set of plural beliefs but a rigid, caste-ridden social structure where untouchability is an even older form of oppression than modern-day communalism.
“Inequality”, as Ambedkar had said with agonised precision, “is the soul of Hinduism.” The spiritual aspect of the Hindu religion, Ambedkar knew better than others, is not totally outside the realm of social oppression. The problems of communalism inherent in Hindutva are part of other forms of social and religious othering within Hindu society. In order to demystify the ideology of Hindutva, it is important to ruthlessly critique the structure of that society as well as the hegemonic arrogance of its nationalist imagination. One dangerously narcissistic god begets another.
After the Babri Masjid demolition, VS Naipaul had infamously said that Hindus had finally ‘gained historical consciousness’. Naipaul appears blind in contrast to Octavio Paz who wrote: ‘India, as a country and as a history, is much greater than Hinduism’
There is also an urgent necessity to go beyond the naïve Nehruvian distinction of good versus bad nationalism. The good-versus-bad brand of nationalist position only helps deceitfully liberal-minded people indulge in selective hypocrisy: rallying against corruption, ignoring the victimization of tribals and minorities, getting wishy-washy about State atrocities in the northeast and Kashmir, and defending aggressive aspirations in image-boosting wars against Pakistan. Such instrumentalist nationalism dilutes the proclaimed ideological differences between mainstream liberals and Hindu nationalists.
The urban-centric face-off between security and terrorism cannot wrest away more public concern than Dalit massacres in villages and the dark state of Muslims in ‘Shining Gujarat and India’. If the liberal crowd allows such gross contradictions to prosper, history is proof that fascists can exploit it to their advantage. The same history reminds us of the uncomfortable fact that the liberal crowd itself can turn fascist.
With its corporate brand of democracy, the neo-liberal Indian State has already been treading on tyrannical grounds. No developmental programme can ride over the broken shoulders of the marginalized without blurring the lines between democracy and despotism. Since there is no fine-tuning in violence, there cannot be a fine-tuning of the idea of democracy. The definition of democracy isn’t like finding the correct bandwidth of a radio station. Democracy has to hear the noise of the oppressed.
Salman Rushdie had once described Pakistan as ‘insufficiently imagined’. In perfect contrast, India can be called excessively imagined, reeling under its own contradictions. The Centre’s paranoia of the periphery, and its armies of hyper-control, is turning outraged people into maimed populations. An excessively imagined nation is bound to address its diverse problems with brutality. The fantasies and actions of the Hindutva brigade are part of that brutality.
In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, VS Naipaul had infamously said that Hindus had finally ‘gained historical consciousness’. What Naipaul understood as ‘historical consciousness’ was a barbaric display of both history and consciousness. Naipaul appears blind in contrast to Octavio Paz who wrote: “India, as a country and as a history, is much greater than Hinduism.”
Manash Bhattacharjee is a political scientist and poet based in Delhi.